Thursday, April 17, 2014
Courtesy Wright-Pierce Engineering
An old steam pipe bridge will be replaced with a pedestrian bridge spanning the Saco River to connect the mill districts of Biddeford and Saco. The bridge is part of the RiverWalk project that will provide unprecedented access to the riverfront of the twin cities.
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Part of the RiverWalk is already completed on the Biddeford side. The first phase of the project included construction of a scenic overlook near North Dam Mill that gives views of the Saco River on the Biddeford-Saco city lines.
Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer
RiverWalk Coalition Director Alix Hopkins talks about her organization’s plans while standing on a scenic overlook that gives views of the Saco River on the Biddeford side.
Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer
"I think if you get five to 10 miles away from Saco and Biddeford, the perception is that it's one community," he said. "If you look at an aerial photo, it certainly looks like it is."
Morelli said it makes sense to think about development as a region, not as individual cities, because employers are focused on the labor market, which draws people from across geographic boundaries.
"It's powerful to say we're a community of 40,000 people," said Craig Pendleton, executive director of the Biddeford-Saco Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The chamber, city development offices and other groups that support the downtowns teamed up to develop a branding and marketing campaign to draw attention to the power Biddeford-Saco has together, said Daniel Stevenson, Biddeford's economic development director. The resulting slogan shows the connectivity of the two cities and demonstrates their willingness to work together and invest in the future, he said.
Stevenson said that same kind of willingness to work together is on full display with the RiverWalk project, which makes the downtown areas even more desirable for businesses and residents looking to relocate to urban cores.
"As we get more people working and living in our downtowns, they want to be connected to places and spaces," he said. "(The RiverWalk) really will start building Biddeford and Saco as a place so unique there's nothing like it north of Boston."
MILL DISTRICT MASTER PLAN
Talk of creating a river walk began decades ago, but didn't start to take shape until the mill district master plan was completed in Biddeford in 2009, said Greg Tansley, the RiverWalk project director and Biddeford's city planner. The plan, which will take several more years to fully design and implement, is to extend the walk from Mechanics Park to Diamond Match Park in Biddeford, and across the river to connect with the existing Saco Riverwalk.
The first phase of the project included the construction of an overlook near North Dam Mill. This summer, Tansley expects a carry-in boat launch to be added at Mechanics Park, followed early next year by the pedestrian access bridge.
The bridge, which will replace an existing steam pipe bridge, is funded by a $426,000 grant from the Maine Department of Transportation's Quality Communities Program. Biddeford and Saco jointly applied for the funding.
"The river is a mutual asset that should attract people. It's a lure to the community as opposed to a barrier," Casavant said. "I think bridging the mills in Saco and Biddeford with the RiverWalk is huge."
Johnston said it is an exciting time to be in Biddeford-Saco, from the redevelopment of stagnant mills to the expansion of cultural events like the monthly ArtWalk. It's especially encouraging, he said, to see elements like the pedestrian access bridge poised to lure tourists and residents alike downtown.
"Bridges bring people together. There's no gap; the other side is not foreign; the other side is not hostile. They are us," he said. "It's not just the vision of the Battle of the Bridge anymore. We have progressed tremendously."
Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: